After almost two years of avoiding the park, I decided to check in on the whitetail situation at SNP once again. As a result, on a late July morning I left home in the wee hours of the morning so I would arrive in the central district of the park at dawn. As I traveled down I-81 my thoughts wandered back through the years and I recalled the countless times I made this trip with visions of herds of deer and large rack bucks grazing in the beautiful summer morning running through my head and how that more often than not the trip met or exceeded my expectations. I knew things would be different this year, but it was nice to pretend that the events of the last few years had not taken place. If one had any doubts as to whether the situation was not as bad as expected, it did not take long to dispel them. I saw not one deer by the roadside as I traveled Skyline Drive from Thornton Gap to Big Meadows as dawn was breaking. I arrived at Big Meadows to be greeted by a beautiful but unusual sunrise.
|Big Meadows Sunrise|
|Collared Buck At Milam Gap|
The photograph below shows what he really looks like.
The second buck was worse yet, as most of the hair was missing from the neck.
|Collared Buck With Significant Hair Loss|
A mature doe was feeding with the bucks and she too was wearing a collar.
Each of the deer that was collared also had a small tag in the right ear, which is visible in the last two pictures.
It seems at this point that the battle is lost with little hope for the future. The National Park Service has been granted a finding of FONSI (Finding Of No Significant Impact), which as I understand it, gives them the go ahead to implement their plans. http://www.nps.gov/shen/parknews/shenandoah-national-park-completes-cwd-detection-and-assessment-plan.htm . I found a good definition of "FONSI" on a Department of Energy Page: "Findings of No Significant Impact are public documents issued by a Federal agency briefly presenting the reasons why an action for which the agency has prepared an environmental assessment will not have a significant effect on the human environment and, therefore, will not require preparation of an environmental impact statement. http://energy.gov/nepa/findings-no-significant-impact-fonsi They are perhaps right that the collars, ear tags, neck injury, and herd reductions means nothing to the average visitor to SNP, but to the whitetail deer and those that are interested in them, the impact is significant and severe.
Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.